The orthodox view of the church is that Jesus was truly God, truly man, and yet only one person (also called the Hypostatic Union). Another way of saying this is that Jesus was one person with two natures: a divine nature and a human nature. So far in this series we have looked at these two natures of Jesus. We will conclude by turning to Jesus’ personhood. To forewarn you, thinking about how Jesus’ two natures converge into one person can be abstract at times and hard to follow. But it is well worth the time and effort.
Defining Our Terms
What do we mean by the words nature and person? A nature is a thing’s essence, or features that make a thing what it is. If a thing were to lose any of its features, it would no longer exist. For example, God has certain features that make Him God, such as being all-powerful. If God lost this feature, then He would no longer be God.
Philosopher Paul Copan defines a person as “a center of (self-) consciousness, will, activity, and responsibility” (Contending with Christianity’s Critics, Ch. 15). The difference between a person and a nature is that a person has a nature. As a person, I have one nature that makes me human. But Jesus is different in that He is one Person with two natures. Jesus’ human nature is identical to the one we have and coincides with His divine nature. Both natures exist in the one Person of Jesus Christ.
The Relation of Jesus’ Two Natures
How do the two natures of Jesus relate to one another? Let’s look at Jesus’ knowledge for example. Scripture teaches that Jesus is God and that God is all-knowing. At the same time, however, Jesus says that He doesn’t know the time of His return (Mark 13:32). How can Jesus be all-knowing and not know the time of His return? The answer is found by distinguishing between the two natures: Jesus’ natures perform different actions and have different properties.
A prominent example of this is the death of Christ. We know that God is eternal and cannot die, yet Jesus died. So what happened on the cross? Jesus’ human nature died while His divine nature never ceased to exist. What about Jesus’ omnipresence? In regards to Jesus’ human nature, He ascended into heaven and is no longer on earth. In regards to Jesus’ divine nature, He remains present everywhere (Matt. 28:20).
While we must keep Jesus’ two natures distinct from one another, we also must maintain that Jesus is one person not two. Scripture never says things like “Jesus’ human nature died” or “Jesus’ divine nature raised someone from the dead.” Instead, any action that was performed by one of Jesus’ natures was performed by the person of Jesus. For example, even though only Jesus’ human nature died on the cross, 1 Corinthians 15:3 says that “Christ died for our sins.”
The Most Amazing Miracle
Why is it important for Jesus to have a human nature and a divine nature but only be one person? The Apostle Paul tells us: “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). Only a human could obey God as a representative of mankind. Only God could obey the law perfectly. Only a human could physically die in our place. Only God could bear the full weight of sin and overcome the grave. Only someone who was God and man could be the mediator between God and man. Simply put, if Jesus wasn’t both God and man, then we couldn’t be saved and we would all die in our sins.
Scripture teaches that Jesus is one person with two natures. He is truly human in that He had a body, mind, spirit, emotions, limitations and temptations. Jesus is truly divine in that He claimed to be God and did things that only God could do. Jesus didn’t lose any of His divinity when He came to earth, rather He added humanity to His divinity. Even though Jesus has two natures, Scripture consistently portrays Him as one person.
If you have trouble wrapping your mind around the Incarnation, then you are right in line with the apostle Paul: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). As Wayne Grudem summarizes, the Incarnation “is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible – far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing than the creation of the universe” (Bible Doctrines, 246).
7 thoughts on “Incarnation Part 3: Personhood”
Glad you kept the Incarnation where it needs to be, in the mystery of ‘The Word became flesh…” Trying to wrap my mind around how the two natures acted in the one person, makes my head hurt, but…my heart leap. Good series!
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Thanks brother! Merry Christmas!
Good post brother
Thank you my friend!
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“Scripture teaches that Jesus is God and that God is all-knowing. At the same time, however, Jesus says that He doesn’t know the time of His return (Mark 13:32). ”
Another way to understand this is, at the risk of sounding like Bill Clinton, to say “It depends on what you mean by ‘is.'”
When we say “X is Y,” we can mean a number of things, but most commonly we mean one of two things: “X is identical to Y” or “X is an essential predicate of Y.” In the first case we are saying “Everything true of X is true of Y,” and in the second we are saying “Y is the kind of thing X is.”
In the case of “Jesus is God,” we know it cannot be the first because not everything true of Jesus is true of God, and not everything true about God is true about Jesus. As you point out, God did not die, but Jesus did. Likewise, God is triune, but Jesus is not.
Rather, when we ask “What kind of being is Jesus?” we can say he is human and he is God. Sometimes, it is less confusing to say “Jesus is divine.”
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I think I am following what you are saying. So basically when Jesus said “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) he means that Jesus is the kind of thing that the Father is, not that Jesus is completely identical to the Father?